The Crocker-Henderson Odor Classification System

In the early twentieth century, odor researchers Ernest Crocker and Lloyd Henderson created a classification scheme that allowed them to number and catalog every smell in the world. Kind of like a Dewey decimal system for smells. Every different odor was assigned a four-digit code.

Their system was based on the premise that every smell is a combination of four "primary odors." So the four-digit code was created by judging and listing the relative strength of each primary odor.

Crocker would sometimes telephone Henderson and call out a number: 6443! 8257! Henderson would have to guess what it was – Old grapefruit rind? Tomato sauce? Shaving lotion? Most times, according to Crocker, Henderson would be right. They would go on "smelling binges" in the Arnold Arboretum, putting a number to each blossom.

The problem was that judging the relative strength of each primary odor in any one smell turned out to be a very subjective process. Other people struggled to replicate the numbers that Crocker and Henderson came up with. So their system was never adopted by other researchers.   

More info:

Popular Science - Mar 1949

     Posted By: Alex - Tue Nov 15, 2022
     Category: Science | Smells and Odors

Too bad. If we had this system, it would allow the development of "smellavision", where your TV (SV?) would create odors in sync with the program, from the codes broadcast to it.
Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 11/15/22 at 11:29 AM
Not really. The problem is that the premise is wrong. There are only a handful of basic tastes, but our odour detection is a lot - and I mean a lot - more complicated. There are, well, I don't know how many, but at least a couple of orders of magnitude more basic smells than there are basic tastes. So this would never work.
Posted by Richard Bos on 11/20/22 at 06:06 AM
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